I had so much fun (eye roll) doing the team needs for the NFC North last weekend that I volunteered to do the AFC North.
Let’s start with the team that generally needs to get a lot better, given that the franchise has been to the playoffs only once since returning to the league in 1999.
DE/DT: With the Browns switching from a 3-4 back to a 4-3, they need the right personnel. They’ll have their pick of plenty of defensive linemen with the sixth overall selection in the draft. They also need to hope that free agency arrives in time for them to find some other bodies to beef up the first four members of the front seven.
OL: Left tackle Joe Thomas and center Alex Mack are rock solid. But to be truly competitive in the AFC North, the Browns need to work on the right side of the line. The sixth pick will be too high to search for a right guard or a right tackle; they’re better off waiting for later rounds, or exploring free agency.
WR: Josh Cribbs still hasn’t developed into a high-end wideout, and while Mohamed Massaquoi and Brian Robiskie still have time to establish themselves, the Browns needs a true playmaker. Like Braylon Edwards was in 2007, when he could still catch. And when he wasn’t a major pain in the butt.
While many would like to see the Browns lasso A.J. Green or Julio Jones with the sixth overall pick (team president Mike Holmgren said in February that he’s looking for a “home-run hitter“), the bust rate for first-round wideouts perhaps should prompt the Browns to go with a safer choice in round one, and to address the receiver position via lower rounds or free agency.
LB: The switch from 3-4 to 4-3 also requires the Browns to take a long, hard look at whether they’ve got the right players on the second line of defense. Chris Gocong has experience in a 4-3 from his time in Philly. Ditto for Scott Fujita, with the Saints. Still, it’s an area that the Browns must address as they overhaul their front seven.
QB: Even if Colt McCoy will be the starter in 2011 and beyond, they need guys other than Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace behind McCoy. Whether that’s a rookie or a free agent depends on whether they sufficiently like any of the rookies who are available when the Browns exercise any of their various picks.
Overview: The Browns have a long way to go, given that they’re competing with the Ravens and the Steelers. The key will be to demonstrate patience, accepting the fact that it takes time to build a contender, especially in light of the condition of the franchise after the Phil Savage/Romeo Crennel regime.
It’s more than any one draft can fix. But if they can stockpile some contributors in the draft and attract some talented veterans through free agency, they could close the gap considerably in 2011.